On Friday, March 4, 2016 representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and State Department joined two visiting Haitian human rights leaders and two U.S.-based academics in a discussion on Haiti’s current electoral crisis. Organized by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) and sponsored by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), the discussion focused on the causes of the postponement of the electoral crisis, the selection of Provisional President Jocelerme Privert and efforts to move the electoral process forward.
The five panelists made opening remarks and then moderator, Dr. Robert Maguire of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, directed an open discussion among the speakers.
The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here. Following are excerpts from the panelists’ opening remarks and the subsequent discussion.
Professor Robert Fatton, University of Virginia
Professor Fatton opened the discussion by providing some useful background on the current situation, noting that President Martelly agreeing to step down on February 7 when his term ended and the subsequent selection of Senate president Privert as provisional president had “temporarily eased political tensions.”
Fatton noted that the accord, signed by Martelly, Privert (as Senate president) and Chancy Cholzer, the president of the Chamber of Deputies had tasked Privert with forming a new consensus government, reforming the electoral council and finally, implementing the recommendations of an evaluation commission formed in late December 2015.
“While Privert may succeed with the first two tasks, he will be hard pressed to accomplish the third,” Fatton argues. He explains further that the crisis stems from the “perceived illegitimacy of the whole electoral process,” and that without a verification commission – as has been demanded by many in Haitian civil society – “Haiti will not extricate itself from the current quagmire.”
In the clip below, Fatton makes these points and expounds further on sources of opposition to a further verification.
Believing that altering the results of the election or scrapping the process entirely will be politically untenable, Fatton instead puts forward an “extraconstitutional” approach that would see the second-round runoff opened up to the top four candidates. Privert will need the “Midas touch” to move Haiti out of the current political impasse.
Fatton ridiculed each side in Haiti for calling for the intervention of the international community when it serves their particular interests. But added that, on the other hand, the international community must “stop customary interferences and allow Haitians to devise their own history and make their own mistakes. Barring this Haiti will continue to be in a permanent state of crisis.”
Gerardo de Icaza, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, OAS
Gerardo de Icaza, in his opening remarks, addressed criticism of the OAS and its role as an election observer in Haiti. “Without a doubt, don’t be surprised, you will be disappointed with what I say today. I know this. And I know you know it,” he opened. Icaza said that the OAS did see many irregularities during the election, but that they “were not a determining factor in the results that were presented.”
“What you expect from us is to come out and say there was a massive fraud, the results should not be accepted, everything should be scrapped and we should start from zero. Well, I cannot say that,” de Icaza continued.
De Icaza addressed the concerns around the issue of mandataires, political party representatives who have been recognized as one of the largest sources of fraud and irregularities during the election.
“Now, 900,000 mandataires. Who are registered by whom? By the political parties. Plural. By one political party? No. By many political parties. Plural.” Did they all vote and did they all vote only once, de Icaza asked rhetorically. “We do not know,” he answers, adding that OAS observers saw safeguards in place to prevent multiple voting.
“Did they all vote for the same candidate? I seriously doubt it. Because that would mean that there was a fraud that was so well orchestrated… that we would have detected that. And we did not see that.”
Kent Brokenshire, Deputy Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State
As opposed to other panelists who focused on the current situation, Brokenshire used his opening remarks to harken back on his first tour in Haiti, during the early 90s. He discussed the connection he felt towards Haiti and how it has captivated so many others throughout the years.
Brokenshire pushed back on the idea that Haiti has not seen progress in recent decades, noting that while Haiti still is facing many political challenges, “the difference is beautiful.”
“These challenges are being addressed around tables, by politicians, by elected leaders. This was not the case before, you had people hanging on to raw power through military means.”
Pierre Esperance, Director, National Human Rights Defense Network of Haiti (RNDDH)
Esperance, who led a local electoral observation mission that was present in more than half of all polling centers in the country on election day, contrasted what the OAS observed with what his local group found and stressed the need for an independent verification commission before moving forward.
“Haiti needs the support of the international community…I think there needs to be a minimum respect for Haiti,” Esperance said. “When I say minimum respect, what do I mean by that? When we talk of democracy, what democracy are we speaking of? There should not be two levels of democracy – one for those that are advanced and one for those less advanced.”
Pointing to the high-level of violence, irregularities and “massive fraud,” Esperance noted that while the international community came to observe the election and make some recommendations, “they did not go to the lengths that we went.” But, Esperance added, “We are not the people who have the proof.”
The evidence of what Esperance alleges is, according to him, “sitting in the tabulation center and we are asking for that information to be verified.”
“If you put together an independent commission of evaluation, they will see that. The proofs are there. That is why we didn’t get a president elected on December 27 or January 24. So, when we ask for a commission of verification and evaluation, we don’t have in our head that a particular candidate will be expelled from the process. And it would be very difficult to put one particular candidate outside the process. And I don’t think that will change the results of the 4 or 5 at the top of the race but it will help us end impunity and corruption in the country. If you find the truth and seek the truth then we can organize acceptable elections,” Esperance explains.
Esperance, in a message to the international community, stated that “you cannot ask the Haitians to accept the unacceptable,” adding that “we are not seeking perfect elections, we want acceptable elections.”
Marie Frantz Joachim, Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA)
Marie Frantz opened by moving the discussion to a different aspect of the electoral process: the lack of women in parliament and how that happened.
Despite 23 Senate candidates and more than 120 Deputy candidates, Marie Frantz pointed out that there is “not a single woman inside parliament.”
She discussed the role that Martelly has played, particularly by publicly and verbally abusing a woman at a campaign rally last summer. “Basically, he said that women are just there to satisfy men sexually, therefore women do not have a role in parliament or politics.” Therefore, she added, it is “not surprising that today we don’t have a single woman in the parliament.”
Another cause was the “the corruption that existed within the electoral system.” According to Marie Frantz, many women candidates, who were expected to advance to the runoff, faced electoral contestations at the electoral courts. But, she continued, “the people that they were facing had more money and they paid and they went through.”
“The person with the most money is the person that gets elected.”
Marie Frantz then addressed the question of a verification commission, stating that “we need to know the truth.”
“It’s when we have that truth that we can truly say we have people that have been elected legitimately. We need people who are elected through credible elections so we can have peace in the country. We need to establish a sense of trust between the population and political authorities.”
Finally, Marie Frantz concluded, “without women there is no democracy.”
Dr. Maguire, the moderator of the event, opened up the panel discussion by asking about the proliferation of political parties in recent years, which contributed to the problems with mandataires on election day.
Esperance responded that while Haiti has already had many parties, it is “during the Martelly government that we see a surge in political parties.” The explanation, he continued, was that Martelly wanted additional parties to strengthen his negotiating position with the opposition.
Marie Frantz then added that according to the law on political parties that was passed in 2014, it only takes 20 people for a party to be officially recognized. She added that, “a lot of those political parties were selling their mandataires to other parties … it was strategically thought out.”
Esperance added that it was not just political parties who received accreditation passes for mandataires, but that observer groups also received these passes, sometimes up to 17,000 of them, which were then turned around and sold to political parties. “That’s what we saw and that’s what we said. That’s why the international community is not supporting a commission for verification and evaluation because that’s where the proof lies,” Esperance concluded.
De Icaza first responded to accusations that the OAS had a double standard when it came to elections in Haiti. “Without a doubt the OAS does not have a double standard. No. We have 34 different standards. Not one, not two, 34 different standards.” That is because there is no one recipe for what makes an election free and fair, adding that that is “why the work with national observers is so important.”
De Icaza clarified that the OAS has “never asked the Haitian people to accept these results,” but has only “stated our position and what we’ve seen.” “We have said, over and over, that whatever the solution is, it has to be a democratic solution and it has to be a Haitian solution. We have not gone any further than that,” he said.
“The problem that we have, for a certain sector of the population, no result unless we reach the cancelation of the results, will be acceptable.”
Fatton fired back, noting that there was a “fetishism” of elections in Haiti. “Every election that is fraudulent is acceptable, so at the end of the day, fraud becomes the new norm. And when fraud is the new norm, there is a breakdown in the electoral process, this is inevitable.”
Fatton discussed the recent history of “ad-hoc” electoral solutions in the 2006 and 2010 elections, and noted the current disagreement between local and international observers. “Let us not try and be nice and diplomatic, there is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the international community and Haitian civil society organizations.”
“One says it was a farce and the other says, well, it wasn’t that bad, it was acceptable. And the problem is the more you accept elections that are fraudulent, the more the system literally decomposes and that’s what is happening in Haiti.”
Fatton concludes: “But I guarantee you that if you have another election, a runoff between two candidates, whoever they may be, without the commission on verification, an independent one, the new government elected will be in deep trouble a few months afterwards because it will have very limited legitimacy … this is a recipe for another crisis.”
Esperance then addressed the OAS representative, de Icaza, noting that while the situation in each country is different, their work in Haiti is based on what is contained in the electoral law. “There are many people who voted many times, particularly the observers and political representatives. That’s fraud. Help us construct democracy, help us end impunity and corruption.”
Kent Brokenshire, the State Department representative, who remained relatively quiet throughout the panel, then chimed in to underscore that “this is a Haitian process” and the U.S. doesn’t “favor any candidate at all, what we favor is democracy.” Though not directly addressing the calls for a verification commission, Brokenshire expressed the U.S.’ desire to “see Haiti move through the electoral cycle now and have a truly elected president to represent the will of the Haitian people, have a democratically elected head of state with whom we would be able to deal country to country.”
Pushing back on other panelists comments about the unlikelihood of elections being held in April, as the political accord had called for, Brokenshire added that: “In this accord they targeted April 14 [it’s actually April 24] as the day for elections, they gave the provisional president 120 days to complete that. So, they basically set out the rules for that and this is something that was done among Haitians, there was no whispering in ears there. This is something done among Haitians and something that we respect.”
Esperance responded that the accord did not involve the entire Haitian society and that the timeframe they put forward was “impossible.” “There is not even a 1% chance that a president will be installed on May 14, even in June it’s impossible. So what do we want? First, there will be a new CEP. There will be a commission for evaluation and verification. And I guarantee you that commission must happen otherwise there will be no election.” Even if the results do not change, we need to seek the truth, he added.
De Icaza then indicated that if Haitian leaders decide that a verification commission is needed to move the process forward, then “that’s perfect and the OAS will probably accompany this process.” But, he continued, it will issue a report that will show what we already know, that there were many irregularities. “Will they be able to put a number on those irregularities? I don’t know if they can do that scientifically, to tell you the truth.”
“For us, the difference between first, second and third is so clear that it would be difficult for those things to change. But if that’s what is needed and that is the Haitian solution, that’s wonderful,” he stated. De Icaza pointed out, however, that if a verification commission was formed, it would need clear timelines and rules to ensure its acceptance and success.
Marie Frantz responded by referencing the lack of trust between international actors and the Haitian people, but noted that these institutions, including the OAS, “have a great deal to gain by working hand in hand with Haitian society to put together this commission.”
“The lack of trust that exists between the population and these institutions…work to reestablish trust is work that is extremely important and I hope that the reflections we are having today will allow us…to reestablish trust.”